Squalius entangled on a piece of plastic tube. Credit: Paulo Oliveira

 Claire Krummenacher

England bans single-use plastic: This week England took a major step towards reducing plastic waste by joining Scotland and Wales in enacting a ban on plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and certain kinds of polystyrene cups and food containers in restaurants and cafes, with a separate measure addressing plastic packaging in supermarkets and stores planned for 2024. The country currently uses an estimated 1.1 billion single-use plastic plates and 4.3 billion single-use pieces of cutlery annually, of which only a small fraction is recycled. While there is already strong public support for single-use plastic bans, environmental groups are advocating for the government to implement further changes in order to meaningfully reduce plastic pollution, including setting legally binding targets to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025, implementing a deposit return scheme, and extending producer responsibility.

 Amy Boyer

Women and Biodiversity: Last month's COP-15 conference on preserving biodiversity included a target for including women and girls in planning and implementation. The COP-15 Gender Plan of Action notes "Indigenous women and girls and those from local communities are integrally involved in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and yet continue to face discrimination and remain marginalized in decision-making processes, access, and ownership over resources including land." Men and women often know and interact with place differently—for instance, in South Africa and other areas, women often gather intertidal resources, while men fish. Dozens of women-led organizations worked for years to get a gender equality target into the biodiversity framework; the target received overwhelming support.  Now comes the work of implementation and accountability, making sure that women's voices are heard and they have access to resources.

 Benjamin Felser

Update–No More Walls: Community activists have stepped into the line of fire to stop Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s illegal border wall. We return to this story from Nov 19th’s Waggle to find that, after months of grassroots action, the federal government has finally forced Ducey’s hand. By camping out in the frigid scrubland since Nov 20, activists halted wall construction through this critical habitat for endangered Ocelot, Bighorn Sheep, and even Jaguars. A DOJ lawsuit followed this direct action in mid-December, cementing the demise of Ducey’s disastrous project. With wall removal beginning the following week, the entire region in addition to the illegal wall in neighboring Yuma County is slated to open in the coming month. This federal response is the result of immediate direct action and will go down as one of the great successes of grassroots environmental activism.

 Courtney White

Biden’s USDA fights major Farm to Fork program: Adopted in 2020, the European Union’s Farm to Fork program aims to halve the amount of chemicals used in food production, increase the amount of land dedicated to organic farming, reduce food waste, and improve animal welfare. However, it has drawn fierce opposition from Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who believes pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are necessary to maintain yields of industrial corn, wheat, and soy. At the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, hosted by the White House, Vilsack announced the formation of a Sustainable Productivity Growth Coalition as a direct counter to the EU. Canada and the UK enrolled in 2022, joining fifty other nations. Apparently, the pressure is having an effect. Last month, the EU postponed implementing its pesticide rule – a rule supported by 500 scientists. At the same moment, the EU was supporting biodiversity conservation at a major conference called COP15, creating what one observer called an “Orwellian moment.”

 Kavya Gopal

Meet the CHO: Chief Heat Officers may not be a common job now, but in an increasingly warming world, every village, town, and city may have one. Eugenia Kargbo is Freetown’s first chief heat officer, a post she took on in 2021, with the unenviable task of making her city cool and liveable again by adapting to rising temperatures, landslides, floods, and heat waves. In a city of 1.2 million people living in housing with corrugated iron roofs, and where air conditioning is a rare luxury, Kargbo has her eyes on near-term fixes–improving public gardens, and setting up outdoor canopies and sheltered areas, installing white roofs, and urban afforestation. The implementation of these solutions relies on access to funding, most of which still flows in from multilateral institutions like the UN, or private partners and financial institutions. While the world needs more CHOs to rise to the task of adaptation, the root causes of mismanaged urban development, tree felling, and poor waste management must also be addressed to transition to truly regenerative cities.

 Nick Obradovich

California cuts residential solar net metering rates: One of the primary economic incentives for individuals and small collectives to put solar arrays on their homes is the ability to receive payments from public utility companies for the energy those residential installations are able to send back to the grid. This is termed 'net metering', where an individual buys power from the utility when their solar array isn't producing enough to meet their needs and sells power back to the utility when their array produces excess. Until now, California utilities had paid customers the same price for energy as what those customers paid to the utility (the 'retail rate'). This meant that owners of residential solar installations could offset their energy costs 1:1 with solar power. Unfortunately, California just changed these terms so that utilities will only pay the lower 'wholesale rate' for residential solar energy, undercutting the economic viability of many residential solar installations. Given that California often leads on renewable policy, it's a concerning development for the prospects of distributed solar in the US more broadly.

 Robert Denney

The ozone layer is recovering on schedule: A recent U.N.-sponsored assessment has found that restoration of the ozone layer is back on track. Global emissions of CFC-11, a banned ozone-depleting chemical, had been increasing for several years until 2018 when emissions started to decline. CFC-11 is a chlorofluorocarbon used in making foam insulation, and it was widely speculated that small factories in China were disregarding the global CFC-11 ban and causing an uptick in emissions until 2018. It appears that China has since cracked down on CFC-11 emissions, which could have delayed the recovery of the ozone layer by over a decade if the increase in emissions continued. Scientists now agree that recovery of the ozone layer is back on course to be recovered to pre-1980 levels by around the middle of the century.

 Juliana Birnbaum

New Owl Species Discovery:  I live in a forested valley in Northern California and for years I often hear Great Horned Owls at nightfall, calling to each other across the canyon, but I'd never seen one.  Recently, one got caught in the soccer net at my daughter's school and had to be treated at a local wildlife hospital and released—it all made a special learning opportunity for the students to get to see one of the elusive nocturnal raptors.  This fall, a screeching bird that had been heard but not seen for nearly a century was officially identified as a new, tiny species of scops-owl.  The Principe Scops-Owl (Otus bikegila) is thought to live exclusively within five square miles located in a park on one of the islands making up the nation of Sao Tome and Principe.  It was named for a local guide named Bikegila, the first to spot one years ago and a co-author of the study identifying the owl and documenting the conservation threats that have scientists recommending it be recognized as critically endangered, and protected.

A Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus).
Credit: Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Image

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